P3 Research Methods
Institutional Review Board approval was granted by Tennessee
Tech’s IRB (approval no. 1740). Although the P3 has been implemented and improved over five semesters in total, data collection
spanned two semesters, Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, in the general
botany course offered each semester at Tennessee Tech. Data collection included observations of class lectures and labs and
responses from a qualitative end-of-semester survey. The survey
included ten open-ended questions meant to gauge students’ prior
experience growing plants and their views about botany as a result
of completing the P3 (Table 3). Data were collected from a total of
209 student-participants. Each culminating Survey Question (SQ)
helped inform one of the three Research Questions (RQ), as identified in Table 3. Survey responses were collected through a Google
Form and exported into an Excel spreadsheet for analysis. Inductive analysis was performed (Maxwell, 1996; LeCompte, 2000) on
the survey responses, utilizing categorization strategies to organize
and report the data. Each of the three researchers reviewed and
coded the survey responses in the Excel spreadsheet; from these
codes common themes were derived. Next, researchers discussed
the most prevalent themes that helped answer the research questions. The professor’s observations during class and labs helped
refine and confirm themes found in the survey data.
A variety of themes were identified in student responses to help
answer the study’s research questions, which are explored below.
Results for each SQ and sample responses are provided in Table 3.
Research Question #1: In what ways does the P3
serve as an effective tool to engage students in
abstract botany concepts across a semester?
A common theme in student responses was greater comprehension
and increased use of academic language surrounding botany concepts; students wrote about the intricacies of photosynthesis, respiration, plant anatomy, and environmental factors that affected their
plants. A majority of the student participants (121 students, 58%)
reported increased comprehension of the true complexity behind
the statement “plants need sun, water, and air” as a result of growing
their own plants. Another theme was the hands-on reinforcement
grounded in P3. Sixty-eight percent of participants (141 students)
stated that watching and caring for their plant outside of class bolstered their engagement with and interest in the lecture material, a
powerful theme among participants. Others said they paid more
attention in class in order to learn how to care for their plants better
and to understand how and why their plants were growing; students
specifically wrote about nutrients, the importance of water and sunlight, artificial versus natural light, biochemical reactions, and cellular processes. The theme of personal engagement in course concepts
was evident when many students said P3 made the material much
more interesting because they could relate to botany concepts on a
personal level. When students were asked about an increase in ability to understand the significance of cellular processes to plant survival (SQ3), 197 (94%) answered positively, five students (2%)
answered negatively, and seven students (3%) remained neutral.
Additionally, when asked about how observing their plant at home
influenced interest in the course subject matter (SQ4), 169 students
(80%) responded positively, nine (4%) responded negatively, and
31 students (14%) were neutral in their response.
Research Question #2: In what ways does the P3
challenge plant blindness in young adults?
When asked what factors, as a result of this project, now influence their
general appreciation of a plant, recurrent themes included a newly realized appreciation of the number of aspects that go into keeping a plant
healthy, their uses by humans as food and medicine, how important
plants are to maintaining the health of the environment and providing
oxygen for life, and their aesthetic value. Student-participants also
wrote about the complexity of plant life and plant resiliency. Most students wrote about being more in tune with details of their surroundings. Other important themes were responsibility, ownership, and
personal connections to their pet plant. Students wrote about how
“interesting” and “fascinating” it was to watch the plant growth process;
they also wrote about their pride in being responsible for that growth.
Multiple students commented on human dependency on plants, along
with concepts of plant beauty and resiliency, survival, diverse environments, complexity, and sensitivity.
Table 2. Connections of the P3 to the “three dimensions” as described in A Framework for K-12 Science
Education (National Research Council, 2012).
Dimension 1: Scientific and
Engineering Practices Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts
Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas–Life
1. Asking Questions and Defining
4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data
8. Obtaining, Evaluating, and
2. Cause and Effect
4. Systems and System Models
6. Structure and Function
7. Stability and Change
Core Idea LS1: From Molecules to Organisms:
Structures and Processes
LS1.A: Structure and Function
LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms
LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy
Flow in Organisms
LS1.D: Information Processing
Core Idea LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and
LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans